The Corner

Harvard to Offer a Class on The Wire

Last year, Jonah wrote:

At the National Review Institute “future of conservatism” panel, I made the off-the-cuff point that conservatives generally should have embraced The Wire far more than we did. It’s funny, the show obviously has bipartisan fans, but it was something of a favorite among liberals. Of course, most no doubt liked it in no small part for the same reasons I did: it was brilliantly written, wonderfully acted and almost perfectly directed.  And yet, one also got the sense that liberals also endorsed its focus on the underclass and its effort to “raise awareness” about the plight of inner cities and the like. […]

But look at it through the eyes of a conservative. This is a Democratic city, run almost uniformly by liberals. While many of the problems most prominently on display can certainly be traced back to racism, racism itself is not a central issue in The Wire (nor is racism an inherently or historically conservative phenomena). These drug gangs and the poor souls in their orbit, are not trapped by racism so much as by a dysfunctional culture.

I think David Simon would agree with this conclusion, but not about the source of the dysfunction. Conservatives watch The Wire and nod: Sow dependency and reap the disintegration of the traditional family. Put your faith in government, and prepare to be disappointed.

But Simon’s target isn’t the welfare state. To the contrary, Simon views the show as an indictment of capitalism. It makes no difference to him that liberal reformers fill the ranks of city government. In a capitalist system, reformers are bought, sold, or crushed by the money men.

Speaking generally, conservatives watch The Wire and see a part of America that has been failed by some really terrible ideas about how to fight poverty. Liberals watch The Wire and see America, full stop. Simon believes that the world depicted in The Wire is the logical endpoint of a system that (in his view) treats people like commodities. His vision doesn’t require him (or us) to contemplate the alternative — a system that (in my view) treats people like slaves.

Why bring this up now? Because the entirely predictable Harvard class on The Wire has arrived, and it’s everything we thought it would be:

Harvard students will be able to watch the “The Wire” for class credit next year.

At a panel last night, stars of the HBO hit series joined Harvard professors in discussing the applications of the show—which depicts the struggles of urban life in Baltimore—in understanding and combating real urban social issues.

“‘The Wire’ has done more to enhance our understanding of the systemic urban inequality that constrains the lives of the poor than any published study” Sociology Professor William J. Wilson said.

We’re near the point where a student can fill four years of college with classes built around TV shows. I’m interested to see the logical endpoint of that.

Most Popular


Our Cultural Crisis: A Kirkian Response

Editors’ note: The following article is adapted from a speech the author delivered at the Heritage Foundation on March 14, 2018. Few would dispute that we are in the middle of a grave cultural crisis. A despairing conservative critic wrote: “We are on the road to cultural disaster.” He placed the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

An Enduring Error

Editor’s Note: The following piece originally appeared in City Journal. It is reprinted here with permission. Fifty-one years ago, in July 1967, in response to an explosion of rioting in poor black urban neighborhoods around the United States, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the National Advisory ... Read More

Confirm Pompeo

What on earth are the Democrats doing? President Trump has nominated CIA director Mike Pompeo, eminently qualified by any reasonable standard, to be America’s 70th secretary of state. And yet the Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, have perverted the advice and consent clause of the Constitution into a ... Read More

The Mournful, Magnificent Sally Mann

‘Does the earth remember?" The infinitely gifted photographer Sally Mann asks this question in the catalogue of her great retrospective at the National Gallery in Washington. On view there is her series of Civil War battlefield landscapes, among the most ravishing works of art from the early 2000s. Once sites ... Read More

James Comey’s Inadvertent Admission

The good folks at the Republican National Committee awaken and realize that perhaps former FBI agents make more compelling critics of James Comey than, say, Maxine Waters. Yesterday afternoon brought the first excerpts of James Comey’s new book, A Higher Loyalty, and we were expected to run around in ... Read More